Six Yale affiliates are winners of unrestricted MacArthur ‘genius’ grants
Six of the 26 recipients of 2019 MacArthur Fellowships — known informally as “genius” grants — have ties to Yale. The awards were announced on Sept. 25.
MacArthur Fellowships — which come with a stipend of $625,000 to each recipient paid out over five years — are given to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication to their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction,” according to the MacArthur Foundation. The no-strings-attached award is “an investment in their potential.”
“From addressing the consequences of climate change to furthering our understanding of human behavior to fusing forms of artistic expression, this year’s 26 extraordinary MacArthur Fellows demonstrate the power of individual creativity to reframe old problems, spur reflection, create new knowledge, and better the world for everyone,” said John Palfrey, president of the MacArthur Foundation, in announcing this year’s winners. “They give us reason for hope, and they inspire us all to follow our own creative instincts.”
The Yale-connected winners are legal scholar Danielle Citron, an affiliate of the Yale Information Society Project, and five alumni: Lisa Daugaard ’95 J.D., a criminal justice reformer; Annie Dorsen ’96, ’00 M.F.A., a theater artist; Saidiya Hartman ’92 Ph.D., a literary scholar and cultural historian; Joshua Tenenbaum ’93, a cognitive scientist; and Emily Wilson ’01 Ph.D., a classicist and translator.
The recipients were nominated by a group of individuals who represent a broad range of fields and areas of expertise. Nominations are then evaluated by a selection committee composed of about a dozen leaders in the arts, sciences, humanities professions, and for-profit and nonprofit communities. Typically 20 to 30 fellows are selected each year.
Citron was chosen for her work “addressing the scourge of cyber harassment by raising awareness of the toll it takes on victims and proposing reforms to combat the most extreme forms of online abuse,” according to the MacArthur Foundation.
She teaches at the Boston University School of Law and is the author of the 2014 book “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace.”
“Cyber harassment is fundamentally a civil rights problem because it disproportionately impacts women and minorities and it costs them crucial life opportunities,” she says in a MacArthur Fellowship video about her work. “[It is] something we’ve got to address to ensure that people have an equal chance to speak and make a living and work in a networked age.”
Lisa Daugaard ’95 J.D.
Daugaard was selected for “developing alternative approaches to policing and law enforcement practices to improve outcomes for those struggling with substance use disorder and mental illness.” A former public defender, she is a primary architect of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program in King County (Seattle, Washington), a program that replaces traditional and punitive policing policies with public health and other services that address the underlying causes leading to participation in the drug trade.
“It is actually possible to dramatically change the way in which we tackle problems of addiction and public disorder and public health,” Daugaard explains in her MacArthur Fellowship video.
Annie Dorsen ’96, ’00 M.F.A.
Dorsen was recognized for “pioneering a new genre of theater that dramatizes the ways in which nonhuman intelligence is profoundly changing the nature of work, culture, and social relationships.” She creates what she calls “algorithmic theater,” in which algorithmically determined texts are generated in real time for each performance of a piece. In her 2015 work “Yesterday Tomorrow,” for example, three performers sight-sing music produced as a computer program gradually transforms the score of the Beatles song “Yesterday” into that of “Tomorrow” from the musical “Annie.” Since 2017, Dorsen has served as a visiting assistant professor of practice with the Committee on Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Chicago.
“I’m not so much trying to convey a message about machines but rather to offer an opportunity for us all to think together about some of the consequences of our increasing entanglement with different information technologies,” Dorsen explains in her MacArthur Fellowship video.
Saidiya Hartman ’92 Ph.D.
Hartman was chosen for her work “[t]racing the afterlife of slavery in modern American life and rescuing from oblivion stories of sparsely documented lives that have been systematically excluded from historical archives.” A professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, she is the author of the books “Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America” and “Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route,” which “defies the conventions of academic scholarship and employs a speculative method of writing history … to interrogate the authority of historical archives as the singular source of credible information about the past,” according to the MacArthur Foundation. Her most recent book, “Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments,” immerses readers in the interior lives of young black women who fled the South and moved to Northern cities in the early 20th century.
“My work explores the limits of the archive and it’s involved in this dance in trying to understand and to mine every detail about the lives of the enslaved, about the lives of free black people,” Hartman says in her video.
Joshua Tenenbaum ’93
Tenenbaum’s award recognizes his work “[c]ombining computational models with behavioral experiments to shed light on human learning, reasoning, perception, and exploring how to bring artificial intelligence closer to the capabilities of human thinking.” He is one of the first to develop and apply probabilistic and statistical modeling to the study of human learning, reasoning, and perception, and to show how these models can explain how the human mind “understands so much from so little, so quickly.” He has taught in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences since 2002.
“Human minds are incredibly complex, and we try to capture that in engineering terms,” Tenenbaum says of his research in the MacArthur Fellowship video. “Then we use those insights to engineer more human-like forms of intelligence and machines.”
Emily Wilson ’01 Ph.D.
Wilson was chosen for a MacArthur Fellowship for “[b]ringing classical literature to new audiences in works that convey ancient texts’ relevance to our time and highlight the assumptions about social relations that underlie translation decisions.” In her 2017 translation of the Homeric epic “The Odyssey,” for example, she “employs an unornamented, modern idiom in her translation of each Homeric line” and “reconfigures the original Greek dactylic hexameter into the regular metrical form of iambic pentameter, which is the most common meter in English poetry.” A professor at the University of Pennsylvania, she is currently at work on a translation of “The Iliad.”
“I try to convey the excitement and thrill of studying very ancient cultures and their complex, layered literature in a way that makes them feel both different from our culture and also totally relatable,” says Wilson in her video.
In addition to these Yale affiliates, 2019 MacArthur Fellow Walter Hood, a landscape and public artist, will be the William Henry Bishop Visiting Professor of Architectural Design at the Yale School of Architecture during the 2020 spring term. Hood creates “ecologically sustainable urban spaces that resonate with and enrich the lives of current residents while also honoring communal histories,” says the MacArthur Foundation in his biography. He is the creative director and founder of Hood Design Studio and is a professor of landscape architecture and environmental planning and urban design in the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkeley.
Since 1981, 1,040 people have been named MacArthur Fellows.